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Yankee Doodle Dandy

This is a very exciting Memorial Day for me. After 13 years of living in the United States, I was officially sworn in this week as an American citizen and couldn’t be more thrilled. Now, it should be mentioned that I am a die hard Canadian. I love the true North strong and free, but I’ve chosen to live, and work, and build a family in the US. I love the opportunities here, the history, the American pride and patriotism. It feels a lot like when I got married. Though I’ll always be an Elliott, it’s my family, my roots, my home, I chose to marry a McGowan. I actively decided to become part of another family and in doing that, they became  my first loyalty. I’m no less an Elliott than I was before, just as I’m no less a Canadian, but my dedication starts now with the McGowan Family, and the McGowan’s are American.

On my way!!

I have to say I was very moved by the Naturalization Ceremony – the swearing in, the Oath of Alligiance, the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem. There was a video message by President Obama, welcoming all 3504 of us to the country, and reminding us of our responsibilities both to ourselves, and our new nation. He encouraged us to be the very best we can be in order to serve this country we’d chosen. Finally there was a video presentation of American pride and landscape set to Lee Greenwood’s song “God Bless the USA”. I’m not ashamed to say I cried a bit. The officiant spoke of the journey it took to get us to this day, and though I didn’t arrive in the bottom of a ship plagued by scurvy, or try and swim from Cuba, or cross the boarder in the dead of night hoping for a new and better life, my journey was long and often difficult. I’ve had 3 different visas, one temporary green card, one permanent green card and I’m finally a citizen. Every step took time, effort and money. I crossed every I and dotted every T, and I can’t believe all the “proving” of my legitimacy is finally at an end. I belong here now and don’t have to keep authenticating it. It fills me with both pride and relief .

New citizens!!

I love America. I think it’s a wonderful country. A unique land with a million different voices, sensibilities and opinions. Looking around at my fellow immigrants as we waved our flags and cheered our new citizenship was incredibly moving. Everybody in that room wanted to be there, and though each person had a different reason behind that desire, there was a true sense of camaraderie, regardless of race, gender or religion. Everyone was enthusiastic about being a member of this great country. So, in recognition of my new red, white and blue roots, I’d like to give a shout out to some of my favorite parts of the beautiful US of A. Happy Memorial Day!

A new Yank!

American History– Growing up in Canada it always felt to me that American History was so much more fascinating. Canada had some interesting stories but for the most part the settlers were well behaved and docile. To this day we still have the Queen of England on our money and I love that about us. Our allegiance to the Commonwealth even after our independence is a lesson in loyalty and honor, but it’s not something that makes a rip-roaring story. Canadian History is a little like the Dumbo ride at Disneyland. You love it. You go on it every time. It’s safe and pleasant and not at all intimidating. American History on the other hand is like Big Thunder Mountain. It’s high-speed, bumpy at times, but thrilling. From the Boston Tea Party to the War of Independence with the Founding Fathers and their Declaration; through the Civil War where the country fought against itself for it’s future identity; to America’s presence and influence in both World Wars; American history is a wild ride. With the protests during the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement and the creation of Unions, American men and women have shown they’re not one to be silenced. The American voice rings out even when others would seek to quash it. Personally, I’ve always loved Francis Scott Key’s “The Star Spangled Banner” over all other anthems. It’s a stirring melody to ground an amazing story. The fact that the song is written about (and during) an actual event, and that the powers that be recognized this epic poem could be a rally cry for generations, is a testament to the ethos of the American people. I still tear up when I hear it. I just wish I could pick a key to sing it in properly.

Love her too. How classically American are they? Gorgeous.

American Leaders – I’m a big fan of American leaders. I’m crazy about Linclon and FDR. Between the Civil War and The New Deal I mean, how amazing were they? I adore JFK. Whether his father sold his soul to the devil or the mob to get his son in power, I don’t know – that poor family just keeps getting slammed – but his leadership was legendary. “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?” Absolute genius. We actually own an enormous coffee table book of Kennedy pictures and quotes. What could he have done with more time I wonder?  I even really like Regan. Sure he drove the deficit into the trillions but he was also the leader that said, “Tear down this wall Mr. Gorbachov!” He wasn’t afraid to truly LEAD. Sadly, as of late I believe our Commanders-in-Cheif have waffled a bit, but I’d like to see what Obama could do with 4 more years. I believed him when he said, “Yes we can”, and though we currently haven’t, I’m not blind to the fact that he was saddled with one of the worst terms ever to be the President. The financial crisis was like a horror show that never ended, and when you add the oil spill in the Gulf, 3 separate wars, all the back biting and party politics, honestly, who’d want that job? It looks awful. What I’d like to see is more bi-partisan behavior. Less disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing and fewer straight up crazies running for office. Why in today’s world have people resorted to name calling and regressive momentum regarding human rights? Why are we so divided over civil issues? Why in the ‘Land of the Free’ are some so desperate to hold people back? Stop judging and start inspiring.

The Military – I’m so proud of the Military. My Father-in-Law is career Navy, and witnessing the beauty and honor that life has brought to my husband and his family is a true testament to all the good the Armed Forces can do. It’s a life of discipline, respect and committing to something bigger than yourself. I am moved beyond belief at people who volunteer for active duty. People who put their lives on the line to defend a way of life we’ve come to take for granted. I read a bumper sticker once that said, “Freedom isn’t Free” and I believe that’s true. Freedom is paid for by the blood, sweat and tears of those who came before, and those who fight on now. If 9/11 is any indication, there will always be somebody who wants to destroy what America has created, and we must always be able to offer a response. Do I think the Military has flaws? Yes. Of course, it’s a business after all, run by people who are ambitious and fallible but ultimately, the sentiment and purpose is noble and deserves our admiration and due regard. I’m honestly grateful. Grateful that there are people out there looking out for us and our country, so we can look out for ourselves within the safety of that country. Thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.

Very moving painting taken from

The Capitalist System– I’m not a fan of the greedy Wall Street 3 million dollar bonus doled out after everyone else’s money was lost, or the gross opulence of the Housewives of Anywhere, but I do love the free market system. There is a reason we used to say you could be anything in America. The Land of Opportunity was created on the back of the capitalist system. I love the idea that if you work hard enough for long enough with enough tenacity, you too can be a success. Though I think today’s America has made it harder for us than ever, with the weakening public school system, the astronomical student fees that start everybody in a hole of debt, and the nepotism that seems to increase daily with the rich getting richer and the poor struggling harder, there’s still a place for upstart, entrepreneurial visionaries to soar. Say what you will about Mark Zuckerberg, he’s a hell of a success story for the American system (and no, I’m not forgetting he went to Harvard and quite possibly stole his idea).

I also love that Americans aren’t embarrassed to succeed. It’s not something they feel the need to downplay. It’s in America’s DNA to reach for the brass ring every time and I find that admirable. What we have to avoid is living like we’ve made it before we actually have. You don’t deserve it until you’ve earned it. I try and remind myself of that all the time.

Good old Rosie the Riveter.

The Entrepreneural Spirit – I love the American ‘Can Do’ attitude. It’s my hope that despite, or maybe because of, our country’s recent financial woes we can fully embrace that attitude again. Though I believe we’ve been riding the credit train for too long, living beyond our means and turning the American Dream into a race for “stuff”, I believe this can still be the Land of Innovation. We created the internet, the laser, the motercycle, the artificial heart, even toilet paper is credited to an American. Could I do without the atomic bomb? Sure, but the American ideal of ‘dream it and it can be real’ is what makes an environment ripe for innovators like Steve Jobs, the Wright brothers, and Walt Disney. Heck, it’s what gives us Hollywood. Alexander Graham Bell, though born in Scotland, didn’t start working on his lovely little invention of the telephone until he moved to Boston and became and American citizen. I just hope we don’t forget the ingenuity that can be garnered by living in the land of the free. We should never stop seeking to create, or believe that we can. Imagination is at the heart of so many American success stories. We must continue to aspire to greatness.

The Independent Spirit– Just as the first settlers ventured out to see what they could find, staking a claim for themselves in this new land, those of us living here today have the choice to carve our own path even when the task or road ahead may seem daunting. Though the country’s referred to as a melting pot, we are encouraged to follow our individual hearts and dreams as we pursue our happiness, which is really quite something to build a nation on. The question becomes, what path do we choose? What new way is there to forge? If my voice matters, what will I use it for?

I’ve always loved Norman Rockwell and his portrayal of American life. These 4 freedoms are a personal favorite.

The First Amendment– Freedom of Religion, Speech, Assembly, Press and the ability to petition the Government. How amazing is the Bill of Rights in general? To set up a Government that was for the people, by the people, and to lay out the rights of the individual so clearly is something that should continue to be admired. Each voice, no matter how diverse, matters. I just wish more people would exercise their right to use it and vote. I for one can’t wait to finally vote this year. 13 years as part of the system and I can finally have my say. I may be just one voice, but one voice a million times over, can change the world.

The American Aesthetic– I love Americana. Apple pie, mom and baseball. Soda shops with burgers and fries. J.Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, anything Ralph Lauren. The American flag with all it’s beautiful stars and stripes. I love clam digger pants on a beach, convertible cars and ray ban sunglasses. Though I couldn’t live there, I love small town America. Knowing your neighbor, boy next door, golden retriever, main street life. I love New York City and their let’s take on the world confidence. I love Texas and their boots and guns and style. I love a cowboy. I love the whole thing. From coast to coast, sea to shining sea, I think the American style is marvelous.

“The Hilfigers” ad campaign from

American Music– I once said, when asked to choose between the Beatles or Rolling Stones, that I’d take the The Beach Boys over either any day. What’s better than music inspired by the wholesomeness of 50’s and 60’s America on the California coast? I love that kind of music – Elvis, The Four Seasons, Dion, and The Turtles.  I love Big Band music and the golden sound of Bing Crosby, Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. I love the American pop group like the spectacular Jackson 5, or the cheesy glory of The Backstreet Boys. I love the great American singer/songwriter like Billy Joel, Neil Diamond or Paul Simon. I love Motown and the breakout sound of American stars like a grown up Michael Jackson, Beyonce or Gwen Stefani. I even love Country Music. Living stateside has shown me I’m far from isolated in that enjoyment. It’s the only genre that still makes money off albums, and come on, how can you not love a song with a story?

I am proud to be an American. For all it’s colored history and perceived arrogance, it’s a country of strength and perseverance. A country willing to allow you to be who you are and succeed if you can. Time after time America has stood up for the weaker man and been criticized for doing so. But so many countries, so many fights, have been settled or saved by America’s vested interest. Have we done everything right? No. Are we flawless? No. The United States may be powerful but it’s also young. We’re brash and headstrong but we’re still learning, and with any hope, growing. I am proud of my Canadian heritage. I love the cities in close proximity to the wilderness. I love the values and manners. I know how to ski, skate and canoe. I say couch, howse and sore-ree and make no apologies for it. I love the beaver, the moose and the loon. I will always want to spell color with a U, and will continue to summer North of the 49th Parallel for as long as I’m able. My future and fortune however, will be made in America, and I enthusiastically embrace the country that has actively embraced me.

I am delighted to be one of the WE.

Slow Down

I have a tendency to rush. Not rush my work per say, but to feel burdened by the sense of what I need to accomplish, then flap around trying to complete everything faster and more efficiently. I’m a multi-tasker to the extreme and for the most part I’m quite highly functioning. The thing is, when I really stop to consider my behavior – which is rare, because who has the time to do that? – I realize that I’m not necessarily enjoying myself. For all my efficiency I’m stretched a bit thin and I’m becoming aware that I often miss moments thinking about, or dealing with, something else. I like completing tasks. I like checking things off my list. But for all the things I do, my list is never shorter. There’s always something else to add, handle or deal with. Maybe it’s the life of a mother, or a woman, or just the general burden of adulthood.  I’m just not sure it’s the best way to live.

I don’t think I’m always as chipper as this mom at

The other day I burned my mouth on my lunch. I’d been writing while Loch was at school and I needed a break. I get abnormally excited about eating when I need to relax, and I decided that I would make a boboli – a small, pre-made pizza crust that you build on. It’s not particularly good for you but it’s completely delicious. I added sauce, pineapple, cheese, Italian seasoning and garlic salt, then tidied the kitchen and checked my email while it cooked. . When it was done I found myself itching to get back to work. Loch would be home in 2 1/2 hours and I had so much more to do before my work space became the playroom again. So, instead of waiting for the pizza that had just come out of a 450 degree oven to cool, I tried to eat it immediately and, shocker, I fried the skin on the top of my palate to a crisp. I wish I could say this was a rare experience, but it’s not. It happens all the time. It’s like I just don’t have the time to wait. It might hurt me? Who cares! Must eat now! Must get back to…whatever it is I’m doing!

Must. Not. Waste. Time.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the things we want to do. Not enough time to accomplish all we hope to accomplish. And when you have kids – or in my case, kid – there are so few hours in the day that belong to you, that you don’t want to waste a second of the ones you have. I remember when Loch started school and people kept saying, “It must be so nice to have 3 hours to yourself every morning.” It was easier just to say yes. People aren’t really interested in the truth, just as, for the most part, people aren’t really asking how you are when they say “how are you?”  The truth is, by the time you drop off your kid and get out of there and then leave again to be on time to pick them up, you have 2 hours if you’re lucky, and most of that time is occupied racing around getting all those things done that are easier without a child. 

Note to store owners: 10 & 11am openings are very annoying. People are up and out of the house. We’d love to come by and get that thing done, but you’re sleeping in, so thanks for nothin’.

Technology these days also forces us to be more efficient. You can’t get away with saying, “I didn’t get your message” or “I haven’t had time to check my email” now that we live in a world of smart phones. We have to be up on everything at all times. It’s so immediate. I called. I texted. What’s your answer? I’ve had to actively work to stop checking my emails/texts in the car. I have to constantly remind myself that it can wait. That if I crash I’ll feel pretty stupid that it’s because I was checking my grocery list or texting that I was running 5 minutes late.

We were at Disneyland recently and stayed overnight at the Disneyland Hotel (my mother-in-law wisely bought into the Disney Vacation Club a million years ago and now has a paid off investment that allows her children to enjoy her generosity). We woke up early for Magic Mornings which is when Disneyland opens an hour early for hotel guests so they can enjoy the park before the general public. The thing is, Magic Mornings are 7-8am, which means you have to be up really early to truly take advantage of it. We set our alarms and roused our child from sleep because we figured it just made sense to get on as many rides as possible before the weekend crowds made every line an hour plus. We hustled out of the room, decided to forgo breakfast till later – I’d packed granola bars and juice – and started booking it for the entrance. We considered taking the monorail but didn’t want to waste 15-20 minutes waiting for it to arrive. It was already 7:15 and we were late!! As we half walked, half ran through Downtown Disney, Loch kept wanting to stop. He wanted to look at a store window, throw a wish in the fountain, check out the car kiosk or buy a balloon. We kept saying things like, “no, we can’t, we gotta go, let’s hurry, come on”. At one point Sean put Loch on his shoulders and started running. As I was trying to keep up – my PH doesn’t jog – I saw it. Watching the back of my husband weaving in and out of people, my child bobbing on his shoulders still trying to point things out, I saw our mistake. 

Why were we rushing? Weren’t we here so our son could have a good time? Wasn’t whole point to be together as a family and enjoy the magic of the park? Were we even doing that? Currently, my family was 50 feet ahead of me, my son wanted to see things he couldn’t because we had a preconceived notion of what he’d enjoy more, and we were on our way to the park to run from ride to ride. We’d played this game a lot before Loch was born. Deciding our plan of attack for the next ride while “enjoying” the current one. Already onto the next thing. It made little sense then, but now that Loch was with us, that kind of behavior was ridiculous. I called out for Sean to stop. He did immediately, apologizing, thinking he was being insensitive to my physical limitations, but when I caught up I explained the real reason.

We had to change our attitude. Who cares if we didn’t get on all the rides? The goal was to enjoy the day together as a family. If Loch wanted to stop and look at something. We’d stop. If we were hungry, we’d eat. We’d have fun without trying to force ourselves to fit in “the most fun possible”. With that in mind, it turned into a great day. We did ride a couple things before the park opened, but we also stopped for a hour to do the character breakfast that Loch loves, enjoyed the riverboat that goes no where fast, and took the time to look at all the toys in all the stores. We just chilled, and were better off for it. When you’ve paid – or traveled – to go to a special place, there’s a tendency to try and pack in your fun, and packing is rarely a good time. We’re trying to remember that sometimes looking at the ducks can be just as rewarding as a big ride…and frankly, it comes with less of a wait.

This idea of slowing down, of enjoying where you are – instead of looking to the next thing or, in my case, thinking of the next thing – is something I have to keep reminding myself of and then reinforcing with my behavior. A couple weeks ago Sean was going to be away all weekend. He was shooting a trailer for a movie looking for financing on Saturday from 5:30am – 9pm and then working the next day at the Hockey Playoffs from 8:30am – 5:30pm. I knew the weekend was just going to be Loch and me and I wanted us to have a good time. I’ve been working a lot lately and have been missing our day to day routine, so I wanted to be sure he knew he had my undivided attention. I decided not to check my email/phone all day, to accept I wasn’t going to get anything “accomplished”, and to avoid multitasking altogether to just “be” with him. As a mom who’s also trying to work – I hesitate to call myself a ‘working mom’ since I don’t leave the house for my job, but point in fact that’s what I am – this is a hard thing to do. There’s always so many things that need my attention that dedicated one on one time with my child often takes a back seat. In my case, I spend so much time with Loch that I sometimes think that counts, but when I look closely, it’s really more quantity than quality. Sure we talk constantly and have great fun singing, dancing and telling stories, but it’s usually when I’m taking him to and from school/sports classes/lessons or dragging him around doing errands. By the time we get home and he wants to PLAY with me, I’m often too busy making dinner, returning emails, doing the laundry, cleaning the house and, if I was being completely honest I’d say, at that point I’m also craving some quiet time and don’t always have it in me to get down on the floor and play.

That weekend, however, was different. I made the decision to give Loch all my time. It’s not always possible, but for these two days it was, and I was doing it. We went to his t-ball game Saturday morning where I coached and Loch did the best he’s ever done. He even seemed kind of into which was a real treat. We went grocery shopping to pick up all the fixings for a picnic, then took our lunch to Travel Town – an outdoor train museum in LA that Loch loves – to eat and climb and play out full adventures on all the trains. We took imaginary trips to multiple lands, watched the model trains puff through their tunnels, played with an adorable one year old we met, and talked about all the old cars and trucks they have on display. He didn’t even want to take the train ride around the park. He was just happy playing and hanging out with his mom without having to compete with her computer or phone.

When we got home we set up the kiddie pool and Slip n’ Slide and had a play date with a friend he hadn’t seen in forever. Loch and his friend (and her little brother) frolicked for two hours and we finished off  the visit with a trip to the ice cream store. Though I ate my dinner standing up in the kitchen that night, I was out playing with him right after. We played board games as we got ready for bed and finished the day snuggled up under his train sheets reading “Good Night Moon” (a book we haven’t’ read for years but reminds us both of when he was little). I read it twice.

What I noticed at the end of that day, other than it had been marvelous and both of us were happy, was that I was much less exhausted than I usually am. I was on a high. I write all the time about being here for my child, wanting to be with him and share his life, but even though I spend so much time with him, I’m often scattered while doing it. Having a day – and as it turned out, a weekend – Sunday found us strawberry picking on a farm – where I could commit all my time to him, where I could put everything else aside for a moment and just do what he wanted to do, where I made plans but followed his lead, was a real gift for both of us.

I know it’s impossible to do this every day but I’ve decided to try and implement the concept of dedicated time whenever I can. It’s so much easier to enjoy playing when you don’t feel you should be doing something else. So much easier to commit to young person energy when you aren’t dealing with old person productivity. Sure, as adults we need to accomplish things. We aren’t always available to play High Ho Cherry Oh for the 10th time, and quite frankly we don’t always want to. But as parents, heck as people, we have to realize that life is not all about work. It’s not all about getting to the finish line or getting on as many rides as possible from 7-8am. It’s about stopping to see the fountain or just being with the people we love in the moment. Sharing space. Being aware. Really listening. Those are the things that connect us, fulfill us. It’s that kind of time, when we’re slower and more conscious, that give us our greatest moments. It’s probably because in slowing down we become mindful enough to notice when significant things occur, and it’s those significant things that give us the strength to rejoin the race and accomplish our tasks. At the end of the day if you miss those moments, I think you’re missing the point.

And I hate missing the point.

Me and my boy. No rushing. Just fun.

A Love Letter to My Mother

Dear Lochie,

Being a mother is by far the best thing I’ve ever done. I realize that’s a cliche, and part of me feels I should somehow be more profound and illuminating, but it’s the truth. Choosing to be a mother is choosing to put your life after another’s. Committing to a long term relationship is choosing to be someone’s equal, but the act of being a mother is the act of actively deciding to be second, or fourth, or eighth. You are no longer the most important. You can’t choose to look out for number one, or you can, but number one isn’t you.

As a mother your choices get usurped by what’s best for someone else. You change where you live. You buy sensible cars. You give up the things you want to afford things they need. You forget to eat. You clean bodily fluids that aren’t yours, and you have to get up, when every bone in your body says stay asleep.

Me and my boy.

When you choose to raise a person, to devote your life to making them the best possible version of themselves, you sacrifice and save and commit to their well being, knowing full well one day, if you’ve done your job right, they’ll grow up and leave you and you’ll have to smile and let them go. Our children may be ours but we don’t own them. All the love and attention we shower on them is soaked up and hopefully serves to make them loving, caring people that will go out and make the world a better place.

In my room in Toronto there is a tiny, framed water color with a quote that says, “There are two lasting gifts we can give our children. One is roots, the other is wings.” It reminds me of the new Jason Mraz song “93 Million Miles” where he says, “Oh, my my how beautiful, Oh my beautiful mother. She told me, son in life you’re gonna go far. If you do it right, you’ll love where you are. Just know, wherever you go. You can always come home.” The best we can do as mothers is give our children the strongest foundation on which to build their lives and then softly nudge them into the world with the knowledge and security that no matter where they go, or who they become, they always have a place to come home to. That in this big, overwhelming world there is somewhere they will always be loved, safe, cherished and respected. Whether that area is a physical home or just in their mother’s heart, they know they have a space they’ll always belong.

My mom last summer at the cottage.

With that in mind, and seeing that yesterday was Mother’s Day, I felt it was only fitting to write a little about the woman who taught me everything I know about being a mother. The person who showed me what it means to unconditionally love and sacrifice. The person who put her own life on hold to raise yours truly, and the person to which I owe the most in the world, your Granny, Penny Elliott. As we grow, I think it’s important to know where we came from. Who we are a product of. Who raised us. Who raised them. Who we’re genetically or emotionally linked to and how that plays out in our lives. It’s not about looking back, it’s about filling in the knowledge, so we can move forward. It’s a healthy respect for the history of life, our life, and who came before.

My mother was born Rene Penelope Lowndes in Toronto, Canada in 1943. Her mother, your Grand Mimi, was one of the four famous Locke (no, we didn’t name you after them but it’s a lovely coincidence) sisters who grew up with their mother on Lynwood Avenue in an area called Forest Hill. When I say famous I don’t mean to say that your Grand Mimi or Great Aunts were movie stars or famous burlesque dancers or anything, merely that they were 4 attractive sisters living close to an all boys school who made quite a name for themselves in the social circles of 1930’s Toronto society.

My mom. 1 year old.

Your Granny’s Father’s name was Charles Lowndes and he married Grand Mimi in spite of the fact that her father, who would die soon after of colon cancer, told her to “give him up.” According to family lore, he was not quite ready to be a husband and a father and when he went off to war (WWII) he formally decided it wasn’t for him. Grand Mimi became one of a very short list of divorcees in the 1940’s and moved into the 3rd floor of her childhood home with her new baby, Penny.

Your Granny spent the next 10 years of her life living on Lynwood in the winter and Lake Simcoe in the summer with her mother, and grand mother, and various other cousins and relatives, of which there were many. It breaks my heart to think of my Mom’s Dad leaving and never getting to know her. I think it’d be fair to say it affected her whole life. I’d hazard to guess the child in her never fully understood it wasn’t her fault, or that she was lovable and not to blame for what happened. I think many of her personality traits probably stem back to those early feelings – the need to be likable and agreeable – and, I think she always felt she had to somehow make it up to her mother.

A child should never feel responsible for a parent’s happiness. As parents we are responsible for our children but not the other way round. It’s too big of a role for little people to handle. I loved your Grand Mimi dearly, but not withstanding her own disappointment (and I’m sure there was plenty) I think she might have let her first born down a bit.

Granny’s sister Jill’s Christening. Grand Mimi is in the center holding Jill, the youngest of all the cousins, and Granny is second row top left.

When Granny was 10, Grand Mimi remarried an Englishman named Henry (called Seb) Askew, a strikingly handsome, businessman and cabinet maker – and according to Grand Mimi “a wonderful dancer”. They relocated to a small but sweet house on Heath Street, about 15 minutes away from where Granny had grown up. Seb and Grand Mimi went on to have a daughter, Granny’s sister Jill, the following year. I’ve heard Granny say she was never quite sure how she fit into her mother’s new little family. That, despite their best efforts, she always felt a little like an outsider in her own home, and that she was more of a parental figure to her sister than a sibling due to their 11 year age difference.

Granny and Granddad leaving on their Honeymoon.

Granny met Granddad when they worked in the same law firm in the early 60’s. She’d say she fell in love before he did and often jokes that they got engaged because he was so traumatized that his best pal Todd had decided to get married. Granddad would tell you that Granny was the only woman that had ever made him stop his frantic pace and take notice, and for him that was love. They were married in 1969 and honeymooned in Spain and Portugal. Granny had travelled to Europe previously with friends and had to convince Granddad to go abroad. The joke is Granddad would have been happy to have honeymooned in Georgian Bay (where they would later buy the cottage), but once she got him overseas, he became hooked by the travel bug that’s never left him since.

Coming home from the hospital.

I came along a full 5 years after their marriage. After planning on a big family they resigned themselves to the fact that I would probably be their only child, and moved on, as we have, to giving that one child all they could. My Dad worked a lot when I was young and though I could tell many wonderful stories about how he never made me feel like I wasn’t important, or we did wonderful things together, this is a story about my mom so I’ll leave those tales for Father’s Day. Granny and I spent every day together when I was little. She was a stay-at-home mom till I was in the 5th grade and I can’t thank her enough for that sacrifice. We have a very old recording of me speaking into a tape recorder on our way up to Collingwood to ski for the weekend (back then we had a chalet that we rented every winter so I could learn to ski and my parents could party with their pals). On the recording the 3- year-old me is recounting the day I’d just spent with my mother and it sounds very similar to a day you and I might have whiled away together.

Me: First we went to the bank…Then we went to the cleaners…Then we went…where?

Mom: To the bakery.

Me: …to the bakery.

Mom: And tell Dad what you got at the bakery Leigh.

Me: I got a cookie Dad.

Mom: And what color was it?

Me: It was GREEN Dad!!

Dad: What!? A green cookie!!

Me: Yes!

Happy Childhood Days with my mommy. I learned affection from her.

I know those days. They’re boring and wonderful all at the same time.  It’s just life unfolding. Daily, dull, have-to-do stuff, but now you’re doing it with a little person. A little person who’s absorbing the whole world. When I first got sick and thought I was going to die, it wasn’t the big things like never being famous or successful that I morned. It was the boring, every day things that I took for granted like going to the grocery store or just hanging out with you. At the end of it all, it’s those little moments that make up a life. It doesn’t matter that the world doesn’t know who I am. It matters that you know me and I know you. Staying home with your kid is a gift that goes both ways, and for those mothers that have, or make, the opportunity to do it, it means so much and I want my mom to know how grateful I am to her for all those years.

Granny went back to work when I was 10 and it was an adjustment. I could no longer go home for lunch, I got home and hour before she did and she no longer knew every aspect of my life. Looking back that was probably more a product of age than her working, but it was still a trip.

Reading in front of the fire at our first house on Plymbridge Crescent.

I kind of got her back when I started private school in Grade 6 because she worked there. Granny was an alumnae and worked in fundraising in the Sr. School. It was the best of both worlds. She was there but not there. Available for debriefings and ventings when I needed her, but not in my space like she would have been if she’d been say, a teacher. It’s a real testament to my mother to say that throughout my 8 years at Branksome I’d often go to her office to chat, just to find one of my friend’s already there seeking her advice. Granny’s just one of those people that’s really easy to talk to. I’ve always been so proud of her. Everyone loves her and it’s such a blessing to be the child of someone that everyone loves. She’s such a devoted friend and warmhearted person that people my whole life have gravitated towards her. If I could give her a gift it would be to see herself through other’s eyes. She has no idea how truly fabulous she is. Though we have none of the same features and our coloring is different, for some reason we look a lot alike, and I’ve always felt fortunate because of that. First of all because she’s beautiful, but secondly because looking like her, people associate me with her. A perfect example is a couple of years ago when I was home for a visit and I took my parents dry cleaning in. The woman behind the counter took one look at me and said, “Are you Penny’s daughter?” and when I answered in the affirmative, she said, “Oh, you’re so lucky to have a mom like yours. She’s sooo nice.”  

How can you not feel pride at something like that?

My mom in her early 30’s.

Growing up with your Granny I felt pride a lot. I was supported and encouraged at everything I did – save competitive diving but that’s a story that truly belongs to my Dad – and it made me an incredibly strong individual. I also had a place in my mother to confide every feeling, to ask every question and I never got anything less than her undivided attention. She saw every show, came to every meet, volunteered for things I wanted her too and steered clear when I preferred to be alone. She trusted me and because of that I trusted her. I told her when I started drinking, when I tried smoking, when I had sex. I explained my experiences with drugs and unloaded all my heartache. Sure their were secrets I kept – everybody has them – but for the most part we were and continue to be the best of pals.

The best kind of mothers, and your Granny is one, can be your pal while still remaining your Mom. Her primary concern was my well being, my safety and my character. She was my friend, but not before she was my mother and my guide. We had, and occasionally still do have, terrible fights. We have very different temperaments, or maybe similar temperaments, but were raised differently. I was raised in a house where my voice mattered. Where I believed in myself and my convictions and felt that my opinions had weight. Granny was raised to be “a good girl” to be a pleaser and was filled from a very young age with doubt about her abilities. I can remember when my mom was in her 40’s and Grand Mimi telling her that she “couldn’t drive on the highway at night” or “maybe she should go and have a nap”  like she was a 5-year-old. I swear my Granny treated me like more of an adult than she ever treated my mom and I’m sure it was exhausting.

My mom in her early 60’s.

That constant second guessing by the woman she loved – and always tried to please – made Granny what I can only describe as, a nervous person. She’s a bad flyer (a learned behavior I adopted); an anxious driver (and even worse passenger); a blue chip investor (though I understand the need for stability, I’m definitely more risk tolerant); and her most used quote and possible life motto is “When in doubt, don’t.” I think it’s a real testament to her strength of character that she raised me to be different, bolder, more confident than she was. Though doubt can be a possible warning sign to disaster, I’ve always seen it as reason to get more information or put in more work. You might be unsure but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Life in itself is a risk. Do your research. Make educated decisions. There’s always room for doubt, but that doesn’t mean it should prevent action. I recently filled out a financial questionnaire and one question was, “What does risk mean to you?” I answered C: Opportunity. My mom would have circled A: Danger.

I moved away from home at 19 and – save 2 years when I returned to Toronto for Grad School – I never moved back. I believe I was able to do this because of my mom. I was so filled with her love that I could take it with me no matter where I lived, and no matter where I was I knew I could always come back. She’d filled my life with a confidence and security I’m sure she never had, and my life’s been blessed because of it.

When I got sick Granny came to live with us. She was amazing. Giving up her life to come down and help with ours. So many times she said to me, “I wish I could trade places with you. I wish I could take this on. It’s not fair that it’s you. It should be me.” My mom was feeling what we all know, that we’re not supposed to outlive our children. How do you get your head around saying goodbye to someone that you can’t bare to live without? I hope she never has to deal with it. I hope I can take care of her in old age as well as she took care of her mother. I hope I can care for her as she’s always cared for me and I hope I can live a good, long life and spare her the pain of  my passing. I can’t imagine a world without her but I’d like it to play out in the right order. She deserves it.

You and Granny when you were 9 months old. Granny was living with us after my diagnosis.

When I got married I found out that my mom had been saving money for years to be able to help make it the day I wanted it to be. That same year I found out it was my mother that had paid for my private school education. I’d always credited it to my successful, lawyer father but it was my mother – my oft overlooked, overworked mother – who had my tuition taken out of her salary to pay for my fancy – and well worth it – private education. So much of who I am I owe to her. She taught me love in a way that I can never repay. She sang to me and read me stories. She held me when I was scared as a child and as a grown mother afraid of dying. She has a fabulous – almost sibling like – relationship with your Dad, and she’s cultivated a relationship with you that breaks my heart it’s so mutually devoted. Your Granny pledged her life to me in a way I’m not sure I’ll be able to match. I’m not as patient or selfless and I’m not sure I have as much time, but I will do the best I can, just as she did the best she could. I plan to give you all I have without losing myself.

I think that’s all we can ever really ask of our mothers.

I love you Mom.

I love you Loch.

May God bless you both.

xo leigh

My mom and I sharing a laugh at the cottage.

P.S. Here are some songs that make me think of my Mommy:

Raise me Up – Josh Grobin

You’ll be in my Heart – Phil Collins

I Turn to You – Christina Aguilera

P.P.S. If you’re feeling sentimental you should also check out the new “Thank you Mom” campaign from P&G. It’s a tear jerker but I like tear jerkers.

My mom and I at the cottage years before.